“You have to stretch, it is very useful.” I believe almost all of us have heard it at least once in our lifetime.
Stretching is connected to numerous benefits that most people do not question at all.
Should I stretch? What are the real benefits of stretching?
There is no simple answer here. Stretching primarily depends on our goals. As an example, you can’t provide the same answer on this question to an average fitness enthusiast and a ballet dancer.
What matters is that we need to have realistic expectations when it comes to stretching, i.e. that we know how to distinct the true benefit of stretching and a myth.
Let’s go in order…
Myth # 1: Stretching is essential for injury prevention
This is one of the main reasons why stretching is recommended, especially for athletes. However, stretching is not effective for injury prevention. This is backed up by research. However, a good warm-up can prevent injuries, but
stretching, done before or after activity, does not help prevent injury.
Myth # 2: Stretching reduces muscle inflammation
Probably the main reason why people stretch in the gym is the belief that stretching will save them from muscle inflammation. Well, it won’t. This is also very well tested and we have solid proof.
Whether we stretch before or after a workout, stretching will not help prevent or reduce muscle inflammation.
Myth # 3: Stretching improves athletic performance
In sports, the line between victory and defeat is often very thin. So it’s no surprise that athletes are looking for every little thing that could help them. We came to the conclusion that some believe that stretching improves sports performance. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Stretching has been shown to have no positive effect.
Myth # 4: Stretching increases flexibility
This is one of the stretching myths that cannot be disputed. Stretching really increases flexibility. We have all seen this for ourselves, and research also confirms this.
So, is there a benefit of greater flexibility?
As we have already said, although stretching really increases flexibility, it has no positive effect on injury prevention, does not reduce muscle inflammation or improve athletic performance. Also, flexibility alone has no impact on general health either. For example, a person can stretch regularly for a couple of months and will be able to make a middle split, but this has no effect on their health.
The main reason for stretching is the targeted increase in range of motion. If you need more flexibility, i.e. a greater range of motion in some part of the body, you should stretch. Let’s say you do gymnastics, ballet or some martial art that requires a lot of flexibility, stretching would be useful for you.
If, on the other hand, you train in the gym and can perform all the exercises in the correct form, you will not benefit from stretching.
Stretching doesn’t actually lengthen muscles
Just to quickly mention this when discussing the stretching myths. Despite what many people think, stretching doesn’t make our muscles longer. If muscles and tendons remain the same length, and we become more flexible, what changes then?
The answer lies in neurological adjustments. It does not change the length of muscles and tendons, but increases our tolerance to stretching.
Conclusion: Stretch or not?
If the reason for stretching is to prevent injury or muscle inflammation, you don’t have to spend time on stretching. If, on the other hand, you have a good reason to increase flexibility, stretching can benefit you.
- Hart L, Effect of stretching on sport injury risk: a review. Clin J Sport Med
- Lauersen JB, The effectiveness of exercise interventions to prevent sports injuries: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials.
- Soligard T, Comprehensive warm-up programme to prevent injuries in young female footballers: cluster randomised controlled trial.
- Cheung K, Delayed onset muscle soreness : treatment strategies and performance factors.
- Herbert RD, Stretching to prevent or reduce muscle soreness after exercise.
- Konrad, Increased range of motion after static stretching is not due to changes in muscle and tendon structures.